Turns Out the Oceans Are Experiencing Record Heat, Too

It's another sign of climate change's global effects

Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean's a bit warmer than it used to be.
Getty Images

If you’ve been keeping an eye on global temperatures lately, you’re probably aware that those numbers are on the rise. In 2023, the planet saw the hottest month in recorded history and was the hottest year overall as well. And while those settings might generally be associated with temperatures recorded on land — whether in Toronto, Beijing or Antarctica — the environment underwater is heating up — and record-setting temperatures there are only one part of a larger cause for concern.

Writing at Nature, Xiaoying You has news about a recent study from the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Atmospheric Physics. The paper’s authors write in their abstract that last year, “the sea surface temperature (SST) and upper 2000 m ocean heat content (OHC) reached record highs.”

The study’s authors go on to write that the “Tropical Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and southern oceans recorded their highest OHC observed since the 1950s.”

The record heat in the water is directly connected to record heat on land, says the paper’s lead author, Cheng Lijing. “As long as the level of greenhouse gases remains relatively high in the atmosphere, the oceans will keep absorbing energy, leading to the increase of the heat in the oceans,” Cheng told Nature.

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Warmer water isn’t the only effect that climate change has had on the oceans. Another expert cited in the Nature article, William Cheung, noted that warmer waters can also lead marine life to migrate to other parts of the ocean. That can have effects on human industries that depend on the creatures in question — like, say, lobstering in New England. Reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere would be a relatively straightforward solution to this — but the question of how best to do that remains a critical one.

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